LEADING ARTICLE: To the Tower, Virginia

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The Independent Online
The Historic Royal Palaces agency denies that there is a hidden agenda behind its decision to force early retirement on the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. It is simply not true, says Chief Executive David Beeton, that they want to get their hands on the tied accommodation in the Tower, and transform it into heritage apartments for visiting tourists. Mr and Mrs Wilbur L Kravitz of Denver will not be able to book the Malmsey suite in the Bloody Tower (complete with four- poster bed, original plumbing and complimentary butt of sack).

So why then has the retirement age of the Yeomen Warders been reduced from 65 to 60? Because, apparently, now that they come under the Department of National Heritage, they are subject to the same pressure to retire at 60 as all DNH civil servants. As everyone knows, you can't have one rule for one group and a different rule for another.

It is obvious enough why the civil service (in common with many commercial organisations) might wish to reduce the retirement age of its staff. Older people tend to be more expensive than younger ones, but not necessarily any more hard-working. It is one of those strange conventions that your earning power should rise with age, often beyond the point where your capability has stopped rising.

And, of course, prejudice against the older worker is now culturally engrained. A recent study by the Institute of Employment Studies has revealed the belief among employers that older employees are unwilling to learn, inflexible and slow. What would be the point of training such people, companies asked, when they will not be with us very long?

There are, however, enlightened companies who take a far more pragmatic view. Retail chains, such as B&Q, have discovered the value of the over- fifties. One B&Q store in the North-west is staffed entirely with older workers and has been a great success. Apparently the staff show qualities of tenacity, politeness, intelligence and - yes - wisdom in their dealings with customers. Let us not be dogmatic, though. There could well be specific jobs that are better done by the young. Muller yoghurts may sell better if the product is held aloft by a beaming Naomi Campbell, rather than a pouting Joanna Lumley. Perhaps Lancome knew what they were doing when they gave the 42-year-old Isabella Rossellini the push.

But where is the need for youthful Beefeaters? Are not the Kravitzes likely to be more impressed with a hoary-locked, sinewy old Yeoman, one who has weathered with the stones? Of course they are. To force early retirement upon the men of the Tower purely for the sake of organisational continuity is asinine and bureaucratic. Virginia Bottomley (for it is she) - stop it now.

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